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In-wall and ceiling speaker placement and installation

For home theater or music

Planning a new in-wall or in-ceiling speaker system for your home? A do-it-yourself install can be a rewarding experience that also saves you money. This guide will help you get started.

We’ll give you some tips on where to place your speakers. Then we’ll explore a typical installation.

If you're still shopping for your gear, check out our in-ceiling and in-wall speaker buying guide.

A pair of overhead speakers in a kitchen

A pair of well-placed speakers fills small rooms with pleasing background music.

Speaker placement

It’s important to have a clear plan before you begin your install. Good speakers placed in their ideal locations may sound better than excellent speakers in the wrong spots.

In-ceiling placement for background music

Planning a system that's mainly for background music? Aim for balanced sound throughout your space. It’s better to have too many speakers than too few. If the speakers are too far apart, you'll have music playing too loudly in some parts of the room and too quietly in other spots.

Living room with two pairs of overhead speakers

Use two pairs of speakers for balanced sound in larger rooms. We recommend installing in-wall and ceiling speakers at least 18-24 inches away from an adjacent wall or ceiling.

Stereo-input speaker placement

Sometimes you want music overhead but have room for just one speaker. The solution? A stereo-input speaker, which plays both the left and right channels of your music.

A stereo-input speaker is a great way to add background music to a small space. Or you may want several stereo-input speakers in a hallway or an odd-shaped room that's not well suited for stereo pairs.

A stereo-input speaker in a bathroom

A centrally located stereo-input speaker is a great fit for the bathroom. It produces both channels of your stereo music source from a single location.

Stereo input speakers in a hallway

Want background music in a long, narrow hallway? Install a stereo-input speaker at each end for balanced sound throughout the space.

In-wall placement for dedicated music listening

Creating a space where sitting and listening to music is the main focus? In-wall speakers positioned at ear level recreate the live sound experience.

Try to place your left and right speakers the same distance from each other as they are from your prime listening seat. This gives you balanced, focused sound.

A pair of in-wall speakers

Setting up a music listening room? Space your ear-level speakers the same distance from each other as they are from you for the best sound.

Speaker placement for home theater

Is your home theater going to be in your living room or family room? Or will it be in a media room that’s used only for watching movies or sporting events?

The ideal in-wall speaker placement in both rooms is about the same. The height of the left- and right-channel speakers may vary, depending on what activities take place in your room.

Speaker placement in a mixed-use room

Say you’re entertaining in your living room, and want to play music for your guests. You want your front and rear in-wall speakers at about ear level when standing. This elevated placement gives you great music performance as people are moving around. It also gives you immersive sound effects when you watch a movie.

It's tempting to install the in-wall speakers right beside the TV for aesthetic reasons. But your system will sound better if the front speakers are spread out. If you can, place your front left and right speakers the same distance apart from each other as they are from your prime viewing seat. This gives you a wide front soundstage that simulates a theater.

5.1-channel surround sound system

In a mixed-usage room you want your front and rear in-wall speakers at about ear level when standing.

Placement in a dedicated theater room

Speaker placement in a dedicated theater room follows the same guidelines as above, except for the speaker height. Since you're not using the room for anything else, you want each speaker at ear level (or slightly higher) when seated. This gives you the best surround sound experience.

Illustration of all ear level in-wall speakers in a theater room

Building a dedicated home theater room? Install your in-wall speakers at about ear level when seated for the best sound.

Center channel speaker placement

Dialogue is clearer and easier to understand when your center channel is at ear level when you’re seated. But, your TV looks best when its middle line is at eye level.

Choosing the center channel and TV mounting locations calls for a balance between the two factors. Decide the height for both before installing either one. You might find taping up cardboard cutouts of each helpful for determining the best spots.

In most installs, the center channel goes under the TV. Try to leave at least a few inches of space between the top of the center channel and the bottom of your TV. This prevents the TV from blocking some of the center channel's sound .

Surround speakers placement

If you’re using rear surround speakers, face them toward the front of the room, as illustrated above. If you’re using side surrounds, aim them toward each other. If your speakers' tweeters can swivel, aim them toward your seating position.

Your surround speakers should be spaced about the same distance apart as the front left and right speakers. We recommend installing in-wall and ceiling speakers at least 18-24 inches away from an adjacent wall or ceiling.

Placement for Dolby Atmos® and DTS:X™ overhead speakers

Planning to use overhead speakers for special effects? For Atmos systems, Dolby recommends using four in-ceiling speakers. One pair located in front of your listening position, and a second pair behind it. If your system can only accommodate one pair of speakers, mount them slightly in front of where you’ll be listening.

Don’t worry if your speaker placement isn’t perfect. Your Atmos-enabled receiver’s auto calibration system will help dial in the sound. Check out Dolby's speaker setup guide for a deep dive into Atmos speaker placement.

Illustration of overhead in-ceiling speakers in a surround system

Adding a pair of overhead speaker channels to your system? Place them slightly in front of your seats for immersive sound effects.

Preparing for the installation

Making sure you have the right tools on hand helps ensure a smooth installation. Below is a list of the tools used in a typical install. Check the owner's manuals of your speakers to see if anything else is required.

  • drywall saw
  • utility knife
  • wire stripper
  • level
  • stud finder
  • screwdriver
  • masking tape
  • pencil
  • measuring tape
  • drill and bits
  • Shop Vac®

Use UL-rated wire for your in-wall or in-ceiling speakers

It's important that you use speaker wire that's approved for in-wall runs. You want UL-rated wire that's labeled CL2 or CL3. Check out our in-wall wiring guide for more info.

Confirm your speaker locations with a stud finder

After you map out your speaker locations, make sure there’s enough space in the wall or ceiling to accommodate them.

Identify any potential hazards behind the wall or ceiling. Use a high-quality stud finder that can detect metal pipes, AC wires, and other obstacles hidden behind your walls.

Photo of stud finder being used.

Self-installing? It's worth investing in a high-quality stud finder that can detect obstacles hidden behind your walls. (Photo courtesy of Zircon.)

Do a thorough check behind the walls

Try to inspect as much as possible without making a hole. See if you can detect which way joists run and where empty wall space between studs might be.

You’re looking for wall locations that are empty of pipes and electrical wires. You may not know what's behind the wall with absolute certainty, so you might have to cut and patch exploratory holes.

Start with a pilot hole

In an existing room, you'll want to drill a pilot hole to determine if each of your speaker locations will work. This lets you explore the space behind the wall or ceiling to make sure there isn’t anything there.

Before you begin, turn off the power in areas you'll be working to avoid electric shock. Then drill a small hole in the middle of where you want to place your speaker. Use caution when drilling so you don't plunge your bit into a pipe or electrical conduit.

Illustration of pilot hole being tested.

A pilot hole lets you explore the space behind the wall to make sure there isn’t anything surprising there.

Explore the area

Insert a sturdy wire (like a bent coat hanger) into the pilot hole. If there might be power lines behind the wall near your pilot hole, wrap the exploratory wire with electrical tape.

Explore the surrounding area. Make sure there's enough room for the speaker, and that there’s nothing in the way. Check your speaker’s mounting dimensions to make sure there's enough space to accommodate it.

Confirm your speaker locations before you cut

Don't cut any drywall until you've drilled pilot holes and checked all of your desired speaker locations. If one of your locations doesn't work out, you might want to move one or more of them.

Use rough-in brackets to map out your speaker locations

Rough-in brackets are very helpful if you’re working with new construction. They're also useful if you're renovating an existing room where the old drywall has been removed.

These brackets mount between two studs or joists. Your drywall hanger will cut the speaker holes for you.

Rough-in bracket being installed.

Rough-in brackets let you easily mark where each speaker will go before the wall goes up. They also give your speaker a sturdy bracing between two studs.

Keep the sound where you want it

Your speakers may have another room located adjacent to them. Consider in-wall or in-ceiling speakers that have a back-box to limit the sound that leaks through. Back-boxes improve bass response by providing a sealed enclosure around the speaker. They also keep dust and dirt out as well.

Installing your new speakers

Cutting drywall and mounting the speakers

In this video, Crutchfield A/V expert Norm gives step-by-step instructions. We encourage a thorough viewing since he goes into detail about the entire installation process. After you check it out, scroll down for some additional tips.

Beware of the dust

Cutting into drywall and plaster creates a fair amount of dust. Cover any furniture near your installation before you begin your work. It’s helpful to have someone hold the vacuum hose under the drywall saw as you cut. This eliminates a lot of the dust clouds that are generated during installation.

Plaster and lath walls

If your house has plaster-and-lath walls or ceilings, installing your speakers will be more complicated. Plaster tends to crack and crumble easily, so you should be prepared to do some touch-up work.

Running in-wall wire could be particularly challenging. It may be worth running out-of-wall wire, and using carpets, cabinetry, and other spaces to hide it. See our article on home A/V cable management for more ideas.

Drop ceiling installation

Installing speakers in a drop ceiling is different than a normal drywall installation. Drop ceiling panels often aren’t strong enough to support the weight of in-ceiling speakers.

Reinforce where the speaker is mounted with a large piece of plywood above the foam panel. Mount it to the cross braces, and then cut the speaker opening into both the plywood and the drop ceiling.

For high-quality pressboard drop ceilings, you'll be able to cut directly into the sturdy ceiling panels.

Fine tuning your speakers

Once your speakers are installed, you're ready to make any final adjustments. If you have aimable tweeters, direct them toward your seats before installing the speaker grilles.

Check for tone controls on the speaker. If the speaker is within a foot of a corner, set the bass controls to the "minus" or "cut" position. If the room doesn’t have a lot of upholstered furniture to absorb sound, set the treble control to the minus/cut position.

Learn more about room acoustics and treatments here.

Personalized advice from our team of experts

Have questions about planning your new system? Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Contact us today.

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

  • Ashley Karen Roy from Austin

    Posted on 10/20/2021

    This is one of the most helpful things I've ever read in the internet. Thank you!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 10/21/2021

    Thank you for your kind words, Ashley. I'm so glad we were able to help!
  • Bill Hutcherson from Saint Augustine, Fl

    Posted on 10/9/2021

    Hello I have a question. We're completing a kitchen which is 18' x 32' and 12' high ceilings. My wife is adamant to have only two in-ceiling speakers and to have them as close the the left and right "back" corners. The kitchen orientation is wide, so when walk into it the left rear corners would be 16' to the left, right 16' other way. The use would be to play music/stereo. Two questions: 1). Location: how close to the corners should we mount them? 2). Speakers: any suggestions? (I've been looking at Bose 791 or Klipsch). Thank you, Bill

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 10/11/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Bill. I think stereo-input speakers are the best option for your kitchen. Each reproduces the left and right portion of a stereo recording, so even if you're directly under one of the speakers and can't hear the other you'll still enjoy the track's full stereo mix.

    My recommendation for your kitchen is to install two Monitor Audio C180-T2 in-ceiling speakers. Each has an 8" woofer for getting decent bass in a large open room, and Monitor's gold dome tweeter is highly acclaimed for its accuracy and detail with music. I recommend spacing each speaker at least 18-24" away from the adjacent wall(s) for the best sound.
  • Steve Langerock from Spicewood

    Posted on 8/23/2021

    I know this is an old thread, but thought I would post in the hope it's still checked. I am setting up an Atmos system, and will have 2 overhead speakers set in about 2' from the outer walls (the room is long, but only 11' wide) just in front of the main seating. For the rear surround, I have on-surface directional speakers that I can ceiling mount or wall mount, but the wall mount would only be (about) a foot below the ceiling, and they might look a bit out of place as they would be about a foot above sconce lighting. Is there still an advantage in the wall mount even though it is so close to the ceiling...or do I simply ceiling mount and point them down at the seating area? Thanks, Steve

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 8/26/2021

    Hi Steve, thanks for reaching out. That's a sweet system you have in the works!

    In your shoes I'd try to mount your rear surrounds on the wall, provided they won't look too out of place cosmetically. Bringing those tweeters even a foot or two closer to your ears will help strengthen the impact of those awesome rear sound effects.

    That said, ceiling mounting is certainly an option, and if you need to go that direction your receiver or pre/pro's calibration system will take care of timing, output level, and equalization. You'll be in fine shape either way. Best of luck with the build, and please let me know if you have any other questions!
  • Nick from Montreal

    Posted on 2/28/2021

    Hello, I will be renovating a room and going from a gyproc ceiling to a drop ceiling. I have 4 Klipsch CDT3650C-II along with the roughin brackets. If the drop ceiling is about 3"-4" from the joists, attaching the rough-in brackets to the joists and then cutting the tile still seems like dog ears from the speakers won't "grab" rough-in kit. Options to solve for that?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/3/2021

    Hi Nick, in your shoes I would better brace the drop ceiling tiles instead of mounting the rough-in brackets directly to the joist. Plywood is an excellent choice for this.

    If your ceiling tiles are 2'x2', then I'd used 3/8" or 1/2" plywood. If the tiles are 2'x4', then 1/2" is recommended.

    Note that 3/4" plywood is often too thick — the clamps on the back of the speaker may not have enough reach to cover the tile and plywood together.
  • Alfred Rivera from Selden

    Posted on 1/10/2021

    Great advice for ceiling speakers installation! You forgot to mention one important factor in speaker connection.... It is having them "in-phase".

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 1/14/2021

    Thanks for your kind words, Alfred. And yes, every speaker in a home theater system should be wired in-phase with one another!
  • Mike Curnutt from HEMET

    Posted on 11/12/2020

    You can pick up a 20 or 30 foot inspection scope on Amazon. Drill your pilot hole and run the scope through to get a real good idea of what is behind the wall/ceiling.

  • Jim Panozzo from Griffith, IN

    Posted on 11/6/2020

    Hi! I actually have two questions. First, I have a Denon AVR-X3600H receiver and currently have a 5 speaker set up with all Klipsch speakers and a Klipsch sub-woofer. I want to install 4 ceiling speakers to incorporate the Dolby Atmos sound. Do you suggest I stay with Klipsch for the ceiling speakers, or is it OK to mix in a different brand, like Sonos or something else? Also, my ceiling is unfinished...just painted black. Although I have easy access to the joist, I'm not sure if I need to add a piece of wood between the joist's in order to mount the ceiling speakers, or maybe a rough-in bracket will work. Appreciate any suggestions you have and thank you so much for you time!!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 11/6/2020

    Hi Jim, that's a sweet setup you have there. Personally, I'd stick with Klipsch for your overhead channels. Both the CDT-3650-C-II and the Klipsch CDT-3800-C II are solid choices that will keep your system "voice-matched" with horn-loaded tweeters in each location. It's not a deal-breaker to go with a different brand, but personally, I'd stay with Klipsch if it were my system.

    As for the bracing or rough-in kits: I don't think they're necessary unless you have a drop-ceiling or something along those lines. If you have a conventional drywall ceiling you'll be fine just using the speaker's built-in mounting ears.

    I'm excited for you — having an Atmos system is an absolute blast!
  • David L Brumbaugh from Alachua

    Posted on 9/14/2020

    with only a small dedicated media room 12 across, can I put rear surrounds for atmos in the wall right behind the seating ? Anticipate a couch for seating.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 9/14/2020

    Hi David, thanks for reaching out. You can certainly put your rear surrounds in the wall behind your couch. That's the way my home theater system is setup, and I love how it sounds. That said, I don't know how well that location would work for Atmos channels specifically, since the recommended placement for those overhead channels is above and in front of the listening position. I'd advise against that placement if you can avoid it.

    If you do go in-wall for your rear surrounds, I'd place them up high — about two feet from the ceiling. So if you have 9' ceilings for example, I'd have the top of each surround speaker at 7'. This will give you nice immersive surround effects. But since the speakers will be up high they will also sound like height speakers, too. Just a suggestion to try to make the most of your space!

    Please let me know if you have any other questions, and keep me posted on your install!
  • S T from HAMILTON, Ohio

    Posted on 6/6/2020

    I do not have room for on wall or in wall speakers, would 2 ft above the top of the tv be too far away for angled ceiling speakers to work.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 6/15/2020

    Hi ST, two feet above your TV should be fine in terms of keeping the sound relatively connected to what you're seeing. I'd be sure to go with a model that has an aimable tweeter so that you can direct the highs toward you.
  • paul from Chicago

    Posted on 4/22/2020

    Hi, regarding installing ceiling speakers into drop ceiling tiles - I do have more dense/less flimsy ceiling tiles (I believe they're pressboard, as mentioned in this article). Just to be certain, I wanted to add backing/support, like plywood to prevent sagging. However, since I have a lot of spare ceiling tiles, could I just use a second tile for a secondary support? In other words, double ceiling tiles instead on one ceiling tile and one plywood piece. Thanks for your time!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 4/24/2020

    Hi Paul, thanks for your question. If you double-up the tiles it will probably look okay early on, but you run the risk of it sagging over time. I'd avoid that if possible.

    In your shoes, I'd use 1/4" luan behind the drop tile, which will allow the speaker's mounting lets to get a firm grip against the surface without pressing into it (like can happen with the drop tiles). Plyboard would also work well as a backing option, too.